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Poetry Corner: 'Ode to Jacob Lawrence'

ED GORDON, host:

Like Flowers, Painter Jacob Lawrence was a master of his craft. The artist who gave the world an array of colorful depictions of black life passed away nearly six years ago. One poet has written a tribute to Lawrence.

Ms. FREDA DENIS COOPER (Poet): My name is Freda Denis Cooper and this is my poem, Portrait of an Artist: Ode to Jacob Lawrence. Perfect hands, harmonizing chaos, holding Harlem's paintbrush against America's fraying canvas, how his strokes would tease and taunt her, torture her, tame her, the untamed. Conceived before 3-0-6 somewhere near the boardwalk, black child walking on golden paths toward a colorless world that awaits his coming.

Dipped in beige in love, his brush paints stories of migrants who kept coming, underground railroads that kept moving, America's blood that kept spilling, builders who kept building, a nation that kept changing, yet remains unchanged. Stretching beyond the American paradigm, taking us over the line out of comfort zones to a place where truth lies, challenging her to face a mirror cracked by her own deception and hypocrisy. Daring her to resolve lies untold. Lies unfold before us.

This magic man with magic's hand waving wands of life's hues across backdrops of preconceptions and deep reflections. We see ourselves, we learn ourselves, we evolve ourselves through his hand, his art, his love, his life.

I wrote the poem Portrait of an Artist: Ode to Jacob Lawrence in 2001. I had the honor of sitting down with Mrs. Gwendolyn Knight Lawrence in the days leading up to the opening of the retrospective exhibit of her late husband's work at the Phillips Collection Gallery in Washington, D.C.

As a result of this interview, I wanted to write a piece that would hold personal value for her while painting a picture of the man behind the art for the world to see. Jacob Lawrence died in June 2000 and Gwendolyn Knight Lawrence died in February this year.

GORDON: Freda Dennis Cooper works and resides in Durham, North Carolina, and her collection of poems is titled, "Stones Unturned, the Soul Poetic." Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Freda Denis Cooper
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